[It's three years after LTTE terrorism was vanquished in Sri Lanka and it's that long a time of reflecting that issues like poverty, corruption, terms of exchange skewed against the farmer etc continue to plague vast swathes of society. There are struggles that have not ended. Collectives yet to be forged. This was written a couple of years ago. It is as good a time as any to return and reflect on that which needs to be done, and more importantly the 'how' of doing what is necessary, and of course the 'why']
Nanda Malini’s ‘Pawana’ ('Wind') was dated. For the most part. It was a period-relevant album. It swept across the smouldering hearts of some sections of the Sri Lankan youth in the late eighties. That album was a rough cut and deliberately so. It was irresponsible in a way because Nanda Malini and her lyricists ought to have known better the kinds of heart and minds that would embrace the songs and in what way.
There is a reason why the songs in ‘Shravanaaradhana’ (Invitation to listen), ‘Yathra’ (Vessels) and ‘Sathyaye Geethaya’ (The Song of Truth) are remembered and those in ‘Pawana’ are not. The other day quite by chance I ‘caught’ one song from the album while I was flipping radio stations. ‘Vahinnata hekinam’ (If I could rain..). I thought back on ‘Pawana’ and found that there was only one other song that I remembered: ‘Sanda Eliya Gangak Wee’ (Moonlight like a river..). I felt these two songs compensated adequately for the rest of the collection.
‘Pawana’ was a call to action. It was not a lyrical appeal but an unadulterated command with a threat, ‘if you are not with me, you are with them; if you don’t act, you are complicit’. It was not spelled out in those terms, but that’s how it was read by its principal interpreters and those who popularized the album. ‘Vahinnata hekinam’ was different though.
I thought and thought about ‘revolutionary’ songs, the literature that brings people to politics and about the literature that politics direct them towards. I am sure everyone has his/her favourite ‘Radical Song’, that radicalizing score and verse which invariably bring smile and even tear upon recollection whilst spending the cynical years. I am not sure what came first, literature or politics, but they sure did and do feel one another. I remembered Gunadasa Kapuge’s ‘Sabanda api kandu novemu’ (Friend, let us not be like mountains).
Both these songs were not about the how of political action. They were about why. They championed a way of being, spoke of choice and recommended in an unobtrusive manner. It was so gentle that the message just seeped through skin and was deposited in the tender marrow of sensibility, not for a day or year, not for that shining hour of sacrifice, glory and poetic commemoration, but for the day-in-day-out of lifetime and beyond.
Why be like mountains trying to outreach each other, when we can be like a family of clear springs flowing into one large river, Kapuge asks. Why be like a nightmare that disturbs a child’s sleep when you can be a song that awakens a nation from a deep slumber, he asks again. Let us not be like the insane flame that sets fire to the thicket, but be like the soft rain that falls upon and douses such fires, he recommends.
Nanda Malini’s ‘Wahinnata hekinam’ echoes the same sentiments: ‘If only I could rain from above drought-scorched terrain, if only I could cook like a pot of rice in a hut where rice is not getting cooked!’
Looking back, it is clear we had a choice and we as a generation and a society of challengers and defenders, and all those who were caught in the clash of weaponry because they were born in the wrong decade or found themselves at the wrong place suffered to the tune of 60,000 deaths. That was not a time of soft rain falling, but one of rain forest youth being cut down and burnt; not a time of rice-cooking but frying alive of hope and dream.
Through it all, I cannot help feeling, that a cart was put before a horse; that literature was approached through politics and therefore only its ‘purely political’ message was extracted and its larger call for recognition and exploration of humanity was missed or ignored or both.
I remember a medical student from Peradeniya. He was not inclined to engage in politics. He played chess. He was a voracious consumer of literature, English, Sinhala and translations of books published in the Soviet Union. He loved all kinds of music. He cultivated a taste for classical music. He was caught in the fires of the late eighties. The political visited his heart and left him without a choice. He became an activist and an organizer. He was in charge of a sector. Not a single person under him was arrested because he assigned only such tasks that fell within that person’s capacities and political readiness. As a result he had to take greater risks. He was arrested. Beaten. Fortunately this happened before mis-directed ill-winds turned smouldering coals into raging fires. He was released. He left Sri Lanka. He is not a well-established surgeon. I think it all happened this way and not any other because he came to politics through art and not the other way about.
He was, sadly, the exception. The ‘rule’ was his polar opposite. At some point, in the rush of blood and power, the intersection of righteous objection and political necessity, the dissolve of courage and conviction, the encounter of self with mirror, there must have been too many mismatches, an overdose of delusion and of course the reality of encountering forces beyond one’s strength to overcome or resist.
These songs were powerful. Tender. I am not sure if we really caressed their substance. Time passes. Those who were young grow old. Some become cynical, some remain fresh. We all realize that things change. Slowly. We cannot force those who come afterwards to learn from our errors. We can only hope.
I think every individual has to figure out what’s best for him/her and needs to locate him/herself in a larger collective and inquire into and understand the dimensions of that larger entity within him/herself. I can speak for myself, that’s all. Right now, I am thinking of literature. People. Collectives. Two songs play in my heart: ‘Sabanda api kandu novemu’ and ‘Wahinnata hekinam’. I return again to something I wrote 6 years ago.
I am convinced that the revolution begins with poetry and that it ends with the abandonment of love. I say, therefore, ‘let there be rain, a soft drizzle; let it fall on barren, drought-ridden territories and let it be me.’